Living on a tropical island was great until the Fog started ruining everything. This isn’t just a pea-souper, though, this is a deadly fog that overcomes everyone whom it touches. The local tribes have rushed to the last corner of the island where it’s safe, but warriors report that it’s coming! The fog is coming! There’s space for everyone on the boats, but your job is to get the right people onto the right boats before the fog overruns the entire beach area. And the beach area is chaos, just overrun with locals who would really rather prefer sailing off into the sunset to being overrun by this mysterious condition.
That’s the setup for the fascinating and challenging worker movement game The Fog: Escape from Paradise. It offers two distinct modes of play, 2-4 players, and a solitaire mode that has you set up a specific scenario and seek to achieve the best possible score. I played both in solo mode, the former by taking turns as all four players competing to get their natives onto the boats and the latter as detailed in the game instructions. This review is about the solitaire mode, not regular multi-player.
THE FOG SOLITAIRE MODE SETUP
Each native is identified by its tribe (color) and role in the tribe (the icon itself). Each native also has specific skills that allow them to accomplish certain movements at a lower cost than others. I’ll explain that more in a moment. For now, here’s the solitaire setup, including the main playing board, and a little corner of both the turn board and the movement track board:
You can guess the overall goal here: Move islanders from the back of the beach to the front, then onto the docks, and, finally, onto the boats. Notice the numeric track on the left and the natural color wood cube over 9; that’s The Fog progress counter and once it hits 7 or lower, the fog sweeps up the beach simultaneously. Which is not a good thing.
The beach is broken into hexes and has certain obstacles. In solitaire mode, their placement is dictated by the starting scenario, but in a multiplayer game they appear randomly:
Notice especially the islanders and the symbols under their faces. On the top row, left-to-right, notice the green man and red woman both have a mountain with an arrow, while the older red man has an arrow and circle and the masked red man and blue man both have two circles with an arrow. These relate to their specific movement skills: mountain with arrow means they’re particularly adept at crossing obstacles, while arrow and circle means they can push up to two other islanders to move forward (a critical skill to master!). Two circles with an arrow is squeeze and means they can squeeze between two islanders, two obstacles, or any combination thereof with great efficiency.
Generally speaking, islanders can move in any direction one hex, as long as it’s empty, swap places with another islander, push one or two islanders out of the way to get to a hex, jump over another islander, squeeze through two, or cross an obstacle. The islanders with the “3” under their icon are better at both squeeze and crossing obstacles, and the “+1” denotes they get to move one additional hex as long as it’s free from other islanders and obstacles.
They’re all racing towards the boats:
Islanders have assigned seating in the boats, and each boat has a specific tribe (color) too, so you don’t just want to get people into the boats, you have to get them into the right boat, and in the right seat too. The very back of the boat allows a few extra folks to pile up (the 3, 2, 3) but your boats still need a minimum crew in the front portions to be able to depart before the Fog overruns everything. The top number on each is a reminder of how many movement points each tribe (color) gets per turn. Turns are tracked on the Turn Board:
For solitaire, you take turns between blue, green, and red (as shown on the left). Each time they go, the token slides to the next spot, and every time it hits the tiny grey up-arrow, the Fog moves forward a slot. The lower board is the movement point tracker, though I found I didn’t need it since it’s easy to keep track in your head.
HOW TO PLAY THE FOG: ESCAPE FROM PARADISE
The game is a race against time, well, against fog, and the challenge is that you can’t move the islanders at the bottom of the beach, furthest from the boats, until the group in front starts moving forward. But they can’t move because the whole darn beach is clogged. A traffic jam in paradise, and the fog’s heading their way!
Let’s say it’s green’s turn to move players forward and here’s what the back of the beach looks like:
The green islander on the lower left is stuck. There’s no move that will let them head forward. The older green islander on the back row, however, has options. They can move up (1 movement point), and up again (1MP), then squeeze through the rock and blue masked islander to get to that top right spot (squeeze costs 4 MP) except they have the cross obstacle capability, so after they’ve moved up two, they can head over that rocky area and onto that spot for only 2 MP. In total, 4 of green’s 7 MP can be spent to move him up 3 rows, well situated to keep moving forward next turn.
What if it was blue’s turn, however? Lots more options. In fact, Any of the blue islanders could move forward, at which point your challenge is to figure out the order of moves so one doesn’t block another and the optimal combination of moves to get everyone moving forward. Red similarly has more flexibility, but at the end of the day, remember that they all have to move forward; anyone left behind and overrun by the fog counts against your final score.
Here’s another movement scenario, up by the shoreline:
Green could squeeze between the two obstacles, but he’s got that great cross skill. The blue boat’s directly in front of him, which means the green boat is up and to the right. He’ll need to cross the shrub, move one to the right, then he can jump onto that dock and then onto the boat. 2MP for the cross, 1MP for the shoreline move, 1MP onto the dock, 1MP onto the boat (unless he’s needed further forward).
After a half dozen moves, here’s how the beach is looking:
Didja notice the fog is already on the beach? Definitely not good! The obstacles, of course, don’t move, and you can only move islanders from the tribe (color) that’s denoted on the Turn Board so if I don’t have a chance to move red and blue before green, that islander on the lower left is doomed, DOOMED I SAY!
Finally, the fog overruns the beach, killing everyone that hasn’t made it to a boat. My final setup has most of the islanders on the correct boats in the right spots:
The problem is all those islanders who I wasn’t able to save. See the tiny number in the yellow starburst to the left side of the board? Each loses me that many points, so you can see 7 islanders costing me -4 points per person. That goes a long way to mitigate any success I had getting people onto the boats. My final score was 84 with so many islanders who didn’t make it off the beach in time, which is not great.
THOUGHTS ON THE FOG: ESCAPE FROM PARADISE
I played a prototype copy of the game from German developer Robert Müller-Reinwarth of XOIIOX Games. The components were great, but the rulebook clearly needed some polish and editing from a native English speaker. More importantly, the solitaire rules are subject to change, which is good; by default, even the basic solo game is challenging, particularly in the latter portion of the game when the fog is jumping two lines at a time, not a single line on the beach. This could be addressed by some house rules, as could the tedium of setting up exactly the board layout prescribed for solo play.
The theme could also be a bit problematic particularly in the sense that it’s an outsider helping the islanders escape, rather than a particularly savvy shaman or other local. Boardgame designers have become more sensitive to themes of colonization and other awkward or potentially offensive characterizations embodied in games, and I expect that the designer has thought carefully about that impacts The Fog. Still, switching the islanders to animals would sidestep the issue, but then again, perhaps most people just won’t care and seek a solid puzzle / worker placement title for their collections?
Those concerns aside, The Fog: Escape from Paradise is a really intriguing puzzle game, one that will definitely appeal to a large audience. Multi-player and solitaire are fairly different in gameplay too, which offers a lot of variability in gameplay too. This is definitely one to check out, and if you do create some house rules to better scale the difficulty, let me know about it!
Disclosure: XOIIOX Games sent me a prototype copy of the game for the purposes of this review.